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Brimming with joy

THE carols announce that Christmas is near.

That is, just in case you had not noticed the calendar filling with end-of-year events and letter boxes bursting with junk mail.

The shops have been stocked with Christmas decorations and Christmas food for weeks.

While we need to guard against the seduction of consumerism, I am reminded that at Christmas time small business owners hope their takings will help them recover from some lean months, teenagers look forward to working extra hours, and the hospitality industry appreciates a boost in income.

In her book Kitchen Theology, Diana Roberts from the Methodist Church in New Zealand recalls participating in an event at which three women from different faith traditions talked about how they each embraced the season.

Jewish, Christian and Islamic women all became busy preparing for family gatherings, cooking special food and maintaining rituals.

Each festival provided a means of teaching a new generation about how these rituals began, and what meaning we take from them.

I fi nd that I need to make a conscious eff ort not to crowd out the joy and meaning of Christmas with the busy program and pressures of the season.

Although I have never studied it, I have learned that there are three different words for joy in Latin.

The first one, gaudete, sounds like a loud shirt or a rich dessert.

Gaudete represents the sweet joy of looking forward to something.

A good example of this is the joy of a child looking forward to a birthday.

Counting sleeps is a measure of the anticipation.

At this time of the year there may be a few adults counting sleeps until their annual holidays.

In Advent we read again the Scripture stories that reveal the joy of anticipating the coming of the Messiah.

The crowds who gathered at the Jordan River listened to the preaching of John the Baptist and began to anticipate the arrival of the one who would come after him, bringing great relief and joy.

Mary expressed humble joyfulness at being chosen to carry the Christ child who would turn the tables for the poor.

The second kind of joy, laetare, captures the joy of reaching an oasis in the desert. For a time there is rest from the rigours of the journey and refreshment to carry on.

Laetare Sunday occurs in the middle of Lent.

For some people in our world every day is hard.

Isaiah chapter 61 was written at a time when Israel was in exile, in a wilderness of life and faith.

Those promises of good news for the poor, release for the captives, healing for the broken hearted and comfort for mourners acted like seeds of hope that joy would one day come again.

This is a season when we have an opportunity to provide a little laetare for people in our world.

Maybe you will choose to do that locally by donating towards a hamper for a struggling family, volunteering to serve Christmas lunch to homeless folk, or sharing hospitality with someone who will be on their own for Christmas.

Perhaps you would prefer to donate a goat for a family or money to provide mine clearing from farmland. Our gifts through projects of UnitingWorld and the Christmas Bowl bring joy to the world in a very practical way.

The third kind of joy is called jubilate.

It makes me think of the voices of carollers and the sound of Christmas bells. However, jubilate is not a momentary wave of joy like music lost in the night air, but rather the deep abiding joy that transcends the circumstances.

Some have said that jubilate is the joy that belongs to the Easter season and the celebration of the resurrection. For Christians, the joy of the people of God who celebrate a God who takes on human form is fulfilled in the joy of Easter.

"Joy to the world," announces the nearness of God.

May you and your loved ones experience many kinds of joy in this season of preparation.

Rev Kaye Ronalds is the Moderator of the Uniting Church in Queensland